BOOK PERSON | Vol. 14

Hockey literature, insane narrators, and the perfect Western.

Hello my little tulips,

This week felt like spring. Spring! We have finally reached the critical tipping point of daylight that relieves my seasonal depression. I took a vacation day and spent some of it folding and packing away my sweaters and heavy coats, an annual ritual that never fails to delight me.

I also spent some of that vacation day interviewing author Jen Sookfong Lee, who was so much fun— as you can see for yourself, since our conversation is up at The Tyee. If you followed Canada Reads this year, you’ll know that the final debate came down to two wonderful books by authors I also interviewed for The Tyee recently: Francesca Ekwuyasi and Joshua Whitehead.

This week I’ve been reading Don’t Call It a Cult, Sarah Berman’s incredibly thorough reporting on the rise and fall of NXIVM. Non-fiction! Personal growth! In the spring, I feel as though anything is possible.

This week’s BOOK PERSON is Michael Hingston: author, funny guy on Twitter, and one-half of Hingston & Olsen, publisher of the delightful Short Story Advent Calendar.

Where are you from, and where do you live now?

Born and raised in North Vancouver, BC, now a resident of Edmonton, Alberta.

Have you ever read a book about your hometown?

Oh yeah! Bill Gaston's Deep Cove Stories is about the generation before mine, but I loved it all the same. One story features a kid who throws a corpse onto a baseball field in the middle of a game, and my first thought was, "Hey, I've played baseball on that field!"

What is your favourite independent bookstore in the whole wide world?

There are so many good ones, but I have to ship Glass Bookshop, here in Edmonton, which is currently in chrysalis (read: delivery-only) mode but will soon emerge as the full-service bookstore of your dreams.

Describe your literary tastes.

I like books about books, and novels where you slowly realize the narrator is insane.

What are the last five books you read?

George Saunders, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain (2021)
Hunter S. Thompson, Hell’s Angels (1967)
Javier Marias, Written Lives (1999, trans. Margaret Jull Costa)
Brian Burke (with Stephen Brunt), Burke’s Law (2020)
Alberto Manguel, Stevenson Under the Palm Trees (2002)

How do you choose your books?

In terms of purchasing, I have a large but vague sort of web in my mind of books that I would buy if I ever came across them in person. So that's ongoing. But in terms of what to read next, I try to leave room for following my nose as one book suggests another one, but I also try to mix it up between fiction and non-fiction, and at least occasionally pick a book I've owned forever so that I can finally cross it off the list. I also have to read a bunch for my own work, which throws a wrench into all of the above.

Do you keep track of what you read? If so, what’s your method?

Yep! Embarrassingly, I have not one but three methods.

When I finish a book, I write my initials and the month/year I read it on the back page in pencil. I also keep a book of books in my desk drawer. Then there's my online reading journal, which dates back to 2009.

Ah crap, I forgot the shelf. One of my shelves is dedicated to books I've read in a given year. I empty it out every January, then fill it up over the course of the year. So: four methods. Totally normal.

What's the best book you read last year?

For fiction, gotta be Charles Portis's True Grit, which does not have an uninteresting sentence in it. For non-fiction, M. Ann Hall's The Grads Are Playing Tonight! is about a local women's basketball team that just may have been the greatest basketball team of all time, full stop. I also finally got into audiobooks in 2020, and my favourite of those was Tom O'Neill's Chaos, about the Manson murders, LSD, and... a lot of other stuff.

What was your favourite book as a child?

I didn't read very much as a kid, but there were these middle-grade skateboarding novels I got from my elementary-school library that I read a bunch of times. In one, a masked kid shows up at the empty swimming pool and outskates everyone. (WHO IS HE?) In another, a massive earthquake hits the town! Luckily the kids figure out how to use their skateboarding skills to ~olly over the rubble~ to save a trapped dog or whatever. (ed. note: if someone can identify the titles of these books I will be eternally grateful.)

Do you have a beloved under-the-radar author who you think more people should read?

Not sure about authors, but some lesser-known books that I think most readers would really enjoy: Helen Potrebenko's Taxi!, Elizabeth von Arnim's The Enchanted April, Victor Pelevin's Omon Ra.

What is the funniest book you have ever read?

Hm, Don Quixote, maybe? More recently, Steve Hely's How I Became a Famous Novelist is great. So is Julie Schumacher's Dear Committee Members. And everything Chris Bachelder has ever written.

Which book has your favourite ending?

The ending to My Brilliant Friend, the first book in Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan series left me with my jaw physically dropped. It's impossible to make it sound as dramatic outside of the context of the story, but if you know, you know. The shoes at the wedding. Incredible.

Reader’s choice:

Thanks for the audiobook recommendations last week! I’m very taken by Marisa’s suggestion of Phoebe Reads a Mystery, a podcast with a self-explanatory title. I’m starting with The Turn of the Screw but Marisa also recommends The Moonstone.

This week, I’d love to know if you have a favourite story that feels like spring to you— verdant, tender, optimistic. Let’s hear it.